Anyone on a Costa Rica vacation should have ready access to a minimum first aid kit containing the items listed below. You might also want to look over the contents of the advanced kit to see if anything there sounds like a good idea-especially if you are going on a particularly active or adventurous vacation.
You can get the suggested kit contents in Costa Rica but for conveniences’ sake carry enough for a day or two. If diarrhea strikes at 2:00 a.m. you won’t want to wait until morning and if it strikes on the trail you won’t want to be the guy who crapped his pants.
Packing a Simple Kit
Most of these items are probably in your medicine cabinet, and you don’t need a fancy multi-pocket nylon case (although we love ours).
One of the best ways to carry your kit is in a double layer of one quart zip-lock freezer bags. They are waterproof (preventing leaks in and out), transparent (you can see what you’re looking for), tough (get the freezer bags, they’re stronger), and disposable (if you do have a leak you can toss the bag and replace it). Put the liquids and gels in one bag and put that bag inside the other bag with the rest of the contents.
Use pills in blister packs, if not use tiny zip locks for a few of each type of pill (tape the original label inside the bag), and get small tubes of the liquids (sample sizes are often perfect). Make the kit compact, and light weight, and carry it everywhere (don’t forget to remove the sharp & pointy items and put them in your checked baggage when you fly).
First Aid Kit (Basic)
- band aids®- it’s worth buying the highest quality, most flexible, waterproof strips because others will fall off in the heat and humidity. Butterfly closures are useful to close deep cuts.
- eye drops- Artificial tears (e.g. NeoTears®) found with contact lens supplies are far superior to Visine® and other “red-eye remedies” for rinsing beach sand or volcano ash particles away and soothing small scratches.
- Imodium® (over the counter) or Lomotil® (by prescription in the US) to treat diarrhea
- Dramamine® or other motion sickness prevention
- neosporin® (over the counter) or terramycin® (by prescription in the US) to prevent infection of small cuts, scrapes, and insect bites
- tweezers- needle point/surgical – don’t bother with crappy ones and if you’re using the ones in your Swiss Army Knife file them down to a needle point
- tape- waterproof, flexible, breathable surgical tape
- insect repellent- > 95% DEET for mosquitoes.
- pain relievers/fever reducers (Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, and/or Aspirin)
- sun screen- at least SPF 20, waterproof
- $US 20 bill (if you want more emergency cash carry more twenties.. fifties and hundreds are regarded very suspiciously)
- vitamins- what ever you normally take
- whistle- yelling for help will almost certainly be futile in the rain forest or on the beach. The sound of a whistle will carry ten times farther.
First Aid Kit (Advanced)
If you will be away from urban centers for more than a day at a time (remote eco-lodges, tent camps, fincas, or camping), making day hikes or 4WD trips more than a few hours from medical assistance, or taking long boat rides out to surf, dive, fish, or snorkel offshore, you should carry more extensive first aid supplies.
The contents of our first aid kit have been adjusted and modified over three decades of travel circumnavigating the globe. It goes everywhere with us and contains everything listed for the basic kit, plus the following.
- alcohol pads & benzalkonium sterile wipes
- Aloe Vera gel- 100% pure, no perfume or color added; relieves the pain and speeds the healing of sunburn.
- anti-histamine tablets- there are all sorts of new pollens to react to, and these can help control the swelling and pain from insect, spider and scorpion stings.
- anti-bacterial soap
- anti-fungal cream
- codeine- requires a prescription in North America but if you don’t use all they give you when you have your tooth pulled, you’ll sure be happy to have it if you slip and break your wrist six hours from the trail head and another five from town.
- dental floss – keeps you from losing your mind when you just can’t get that little piece of chicken with your tongue and you can suture with it in a real pinch.
- Dramamine® or other motion sickness remedy especially if you’re going sailing or diving and haven’t done it a lot in the past. You might also be surprised how accurately a tour bus can imitate a boat in rough seas on the windy, rolling roads of the central highlands.
- electrolytes- to ease dehydration due to diarrhea or vomiting. A good mix for an average adult is 1 gram NaCl, 0.5 gram KCl, Sodium Citrate 0.7 gram, dextrose 5 grams dissolved in 250 ml (8 oz.) of water.
- erythromycin- requires a prescription in the US but you can pick it up off the shelf at any pharmacy in Costa Rica
- nail clippers – that claw on your left foot is going to dig a giant hole in the neighboring toe if you don’t trim it before you try your new water shoes
- hemostat- removing cactus spines, repairing gear and use as a hemostat if you know how.
- mirror – fix a contact lens or signal that rescue helicopter
- mole foam- to prevent and protect blisters
- parafilm – if you don’t work in lab you’ve probably never seen parafilm but if you do you know it’s almost as useful as duct tape
- peroxide based water purification system
- scissors- ours are on the mini-knife
- sutures- if you have had appropriate training, you can use them. If you haven’t, someone who has might be around.
- scalpel or razor blade
- sterile surgical gauze
- stainless steel nail file- helpful for equipment repairs and can combine with a little gauze and tape to function as a finger splint.
- super glue- emergency repairs of equipment and an alternative to sutures
- tampons- for the obvious reason, and they also work well in a pinch as relatively sterile absorbent wound packing (o.b.®, no applicator).
- thermometer – we’ve actually found the cheap digital ones to be strongest and easiest to carry
- waterproof lighter- if you need fire or light, and also to sterilize needles, tweezers, hemostats, and blades before use
Non-First Aid Items in the Kit
Things that aren’t necessarily first aid related, but we keep them in the kit because we always carry it.
- micro led flashlight- in a night time emergency it might be the only light you have
- eyeglass screws- we fix our own after experiencing The Big Screwdriver
- 100 lb. test braided nylon line
- spare contacts- you can use the storage solution from some of these to rinse an eye if you’re in enough discomfort to toss a $US 10 contact.
- emergency contact information (our names, addresses and phone numbers- in case we’re unconscious, and those of our parents, and physicians in the U.S.)
- nylon sewing thread and needles- it’s amazing what you can fix with a few sloppy stitches.
- crimp on snaps- goes with the sewing paraphernalia
- phone card- it’s so small and so convenient there is no reason not to slip it in
- ear plugs- the compressible foam ones are by far the best
- compass if you know how to use it.